Challenge Fund

Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 10th June 2014.

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Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker Conservative, Worcester 11:30 am, 10th June 2014

What recent assessment he has made of the role of the Prime Minister’s challenge fund in improving access to GP services.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

Mr Speaker, it is a pleasure to see you again so soon.

The Prime Minister’s challenge fund will be rolled out over 1,100 of the 8,300 GP surgeries in the country. It will improve access out of hours, at weekends and electronically, and it will benefit up to 7.5 million people.

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker Conservative, Worcester

I am glad that this Government, unlike the previous one, whose disastrous contract negotiations led to a decline in GP access, is making sure that out-of-hours care is as widely available as possible. Will the Secretary of State assure me that he will do whatever he can to ensure that places, such as Worcester, that have not yet been reached by the challenge fund will also see the benefits of this approach?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

My hon. Friend is right to say that some bad changes were made. What will most benefit his constituents, whether or not they are part of the initial tranche of the Prime Minister’s challenge fund, is the reintroduction of named GPs for the over-75s. For people with complex long-term conditions, continuity of care is extremely important, and every single one of his constituents aged 75 or over will now get a named GP.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

We are very pleased in Old Trafford to have secured funding for 80 extra care beds for one of the most deprived parts of my community. We also hope to be able to bring health care services, including GP surgeries, on to the same sites, but we are experiencing difficulty in unblocking funding via the NHS area team. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss this issue and how we might be able to move forward?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

Yes, I would be more than happy to meet the hon. Lady and see what I can do to help her to improve health care in her area.

Photo of Jessica Lee Jessica Lee Conservative, Erewash

I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for his recent visit to Erewash. He has kindly offered to come back another time. We welcome the Prime Minister’s challenge fund being allocated to Erewash. May I reassure my right hon. Friend that our excellent GPs are working very hard to make sure that services and support are appropriately allocated in our community?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

I thank my hon. Friend for her work to promote good health care in her area. I very much enjoyed meeting her local GPs. I was disappointed that it was only for about five minutes. I very much hope to go back and have a proper discussion. They were very enthusiastic about the Prime Minister’s challenge fund, and are making some very innovative changes.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

May I push the Secretary of State on this matter? What my constituents want is to be able to get to see a GP when they really need one; they do not want to turn up in A and E just because they cannot get an appointment for a week. Is not poor management of GP surgeries—poor management from top to bottom—at the heart of this problem?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

Actually, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I think that we do have a problem. We have some fantastically good GP surgeries and some brilliant GPs, but we have not in the past had structures in place to make sure that we deal quickly with underperforming GP surgeries and, indeed, underperforming GPs. We need to have much more transparency of data so that we can see where the problems are. We have introduced a rigorous new inspection regime, with a new chief inspector of general practice, and I hope that that will go some way to addressing the issues he raises.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State for Health

People ringing their surgery this morning only to be told that no appointments are available for days will be listening to the Secretary of State’s answers today and thinking that he is living in a different world. People’s real experience is that it is getting harder and harder to get a GP appointment under this Government, but for some it could get much worse. I recently visited a practice in east London that faces closure in October because of this Health Secretary’s changes to GP funding. NHS England says that 97 other practices are in the same position, affecting thousands of patients. Will he today give a guarantee that no practice will have to close?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

Let us address this issue head on. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that it is totally wrong to have a system in which two neighbouring GP practices can be paid different sums of money for doing the same amount of work. We must have an equitable funding formula for GP practices, which is why we are phasing out the minimum practice income guarantee. That is a sensible decision. We are also taking measures to ensure that we do not affect patient care in the process. Of course we are looking at the individual cases carefully, but I am sure that he would agree that we have to fund GP practices equitably.